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Community Broadcaster: Four Zoom Tips for Community Radio

Our social distancing does not need to be completely distant

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

Many community radio stations are hosting virtual meetings for board members, volunteers and staff. It is a new world for many. But how do you avoid Zoom disaster?

Stations have long flourished on the aesthetic of community, which means face-to-face interactions and groups of people gathering together. For many, video conferencing is something their stations have never done before. However, there is no reason to stress out. The etiquette of virtual meetings is not much different than what you’re used to.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Remote Forever]

At the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, we have hosted weekly video conferences on Zoom since the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as webinars and meetings of various sizes. NFCB has been holding such gatherings for several years. As a facilitator, I have seen many video conference successes and fails. How can you and your organization do Zoom well? Here are a few recommendations.

Turn on Your Video
Little is more off-putting to fellow staff and volunteers than someone who won’t bother to turn on their video, or who has not worked out kinks with their audio and video before showing up. In this pandemic period, where so much is done through online meetings, video is crucial in building trust and engagement. Video also keeps you engaged; people can see you multitasking or being distracted, so consider this your time to give your all to the meeting at hand. Short of your background being distracting or inappropriate, video should be on. Body language, eye contact and rapport still matter.

Set Meetings to Mute on Entry, and Mute Yourself to Start
I once heard that unmute was today’s Reply All. And it is true! If your station is hosting meetings of five or more, your facilitator will make everyone’s day by setting the meeting to mute all initially. We need to remember that people are at all kinds of places when they join these meetings. People’s significant others and families may be in close proximity. Dogs are scampering about. As well, if you are attending a meeting, no one wants to hear your side conversation about breakfast or, worse, an unflattering opinion about someone on your call. Click Mute and save yourself embarrassment and worse.

Private Chat Is Not Private
Related to the above, do not say something in a private chat that you would not say in the public meeting to co-workers or other volunteers at your station. Also, do not be creepy. Those are rules of thumb for life, but apply doubly for Zoom, which permits meeting hosts to get full chat transcripts, including of those that are sent privately between two parties in a meeting. Thus, you will find stories like this one, this, and this one, where people are shocked to discover their meetings were littered with rude, profane or abusive backchannel conversations, and the perpetrators of such soon learn they are in hot water, or out of a job, for violating organizational policies.

Use Chat Liberally
Chat boxes are wonderful to share links, insights and other resources others can look back at later. Save your on-microphone time for something you do not wish to type out, or that will resonate more with other volunteers and staff when it is spoken, rather than typed.

There are many tutorials about lighting, headsets and other matters related to video meetings. However, the basic rules of video meetings are not far from in-person success tips. Zoom forward and help enhance your stations as much as possible!